Lessons Learned and Too Soon Forgotten

You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear

You’ve got to be taught from year to year

It’s got to be drummed in your dear little ear

You’ve got to be carefully taught

 

You’ve got to be taught to be afraid

Of people whose eyes are oddly made

And people whose skin is a diff’rent shade

You’ve got to be carefully taught

 

You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late

Before you are six or seven or eight

To hate all the people your relatives hate

You’ve got to be carefully taught

 

Copyright © 1949 by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II

Copyright Renewed Williamson Music (ASCAP), an Imagem Company owner of publication and allied rights throughout the World. All Rights Reserved.

 

The above quotation from Rogers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific details in a nutshell the real threat to freedom posed by tyranny, fascism, and theocratic idolatry during the Second World War. The show takes place on the Pacific front, but no matter, the threats were the same worldwide. The corruption of innocent young minds would lay the groundwork for vacant, yet terrifying ideologies for decades to come. We “won” the war in 1945 but too many of the toxins of vapid ideology managed to seep into our culture and the sickness is spreading. Each time I look at or read coverage of the events in Charlottesville, I am confronted with the sickening reminder that most of the Alt right marchers were in their 20’s and 30’s.  As well I am heartened by the young people, of every possible persuasion of gender, race and religion resisting the lazy temptations of xenophobia, religious intolerance and racism and electing instead to doctor the heck out of this illness with passion, compassion, commitment and a boatload of smarts.  I also leap with joy at the sight of brave seniors out on the front lines lending their hearts, minds and experience to a cause which experience has taught them could crumble at any minute in a political climate such as the one we labor under now, where an administration attempts to bully state governments to hand over the voting records of citizens.

My father stormed the beach at Anzio. He was caught up in the battle in the European theater. He was part of a generation that literally saved the world from an unimaginable fate. He never talked about his experiences, like most of the other men who saw horrors we cannot even begin to fathom.

My father was not perfect. Far from it. He came home from the war damaged. They did not have a name for it then. Today it would be called PTSD. Today there would be counseling available and having this condition would not be universally frowned on. Society has developed empathy for the damaged soldier returning from the dirty work of war. In my father’s time, coming from the West Side of Manhattan where the single biggest post war employer was the waterfront, PTSD was generally referred to as “crazy” and the solution to this madness was simple-“get a job” The waterfront supplied backbreaking but otherwise meaningful work for decent pay. It also supplied access to many waterfront taverns.

He drank a lot and was not immune from the day to day bigotries of many other white working class men of his day. That is to say, he would not want his daughter marrying any “coloreds”, he would be beside himself if any of his sons turned out to be “faggots”, he was wary of the “Ricans” and I cannot even begin to imagine what his take would have been on transgendered people, as he and his buddies referred to anyone dressed in the garments of what they believed to be the opposite sex of the person, as “fairies”. A term they randomly tossed about for any person whose sexuality or gender identification they could not comprehend. My sister loved All in the Family because she swore that Archie Bunker must have been based on our father, even if we did not live in a nice working class house in a nice neighborhood in Queens. No, we lived in a five story walk up, in Manhattan with a fire escape, in a neighborhood from which at the time, many other people were fleeing.

My father, like many of his contemporaries, was not as enlightened about certain things as we like to think of ourselves today. He would not understand our world if he was somehow magically transported back, skipping all the dynamics of change that have happened since he left this world in 1970. But I do think he would have evolved. I know this because for all of my father’s faults, faults almost all directly related to the context of his times and his environment; meanness was not one of them.  Yes he could have almost unbridled anger (almost exclusively manifested when he was soused) but he was not particularly violent when left to his own devices. Although I did on occasion catch a glimpse of this side of him when he was drunk and challenged by family members, particularly my mother who had a talent for getting under his skin at the most inappropriate times. It was never pretty but I can safely say I only recall witnessing it on four occasions, and I will never forget any of them. But war will do that to people.

But like I said meanness was not one of his faults. When he was sober, which happened more and more as he came, unknowingly, to the close of his life, he was actually quite gentle and very quiet. His bigotries were borne more of what had been instilled in him by the prevailing culture. True he did not want his daughter marrying a “colored” but in his own tragic rational he did not equate this with bigotry. I don’t think he believed blacks were inferior. I had a few black friends who were not only always welcomed in our apartment; sometimes I think he liked them more than me.  Living above us at the time were two male “roommates”. There was a closeted nature to their dealings with the building community but my folks were not unaware of the true nature of their relationship; they didn’t necessarily wish to know more than they suspected, but they both liked them and were always genial with them.

My father fought a war against a genocidal monster. He saw people of all stripes fight and die to preserve principals of freedom and fairness that should be available to all.

He was a product of his times. But he never taught me to hate. His mother never taught him to hate despite her husband being murdered on the waterfront in the early part of the last century, leaving her as a twenty something with two small children and a mountain of work to do to survive.

He would be less confused about the prospect of equal opportunity and fairness than he would be about the sight of crowds of people marching through an American city carrying tiki torches and the symbols of the monster he fought against to save this country. He would be confused and he would be angry that American citizens would celebrate and lionize a man who was the face of worldwide fascism and who was directly responsible not only for the attempted genocide of an entire people but who directed an army responsible for the deaths of too many of his friends during the bloody time at Anzio Beach.

He would not understand the blending of the banner of a political body that fought for secession from this country and pushed it into a civil war in order to preserve an unhealthy, immoral and unnecessary institution such as slavery, with a universal symbol of hate like the swastika. He would be aghast that these people would dare to call themselves patriots because what they are fighting for has nothing to do with the America he put his ass on the front lines to protect.

He would understand that Heather Hyer, murdered by an out of control fascist was much more of a patriot than James Alex Fields or any of the other young goons who precipitated her death. Much more of a patriot than Matthew Heinbach, the 26 year old Marylander who helped organize this hate fest and way more of one than David Duke the race baiting profiteer who it appears has never had a real job and who has a felony conviction for defrauding supporters by using their donations for investments and gambling trips. And she is certainly much more of a patriot than the silver spooned faux president who occupies the White House when he is not golfing and who prior to his presidency never did anything of any type of service for anyone else unless he profited from it in some way, even if that meant defrauding ex-military members with promises of a useless unaccredited college degree. She was also much more of a patriot than the hypocritical politicians who stood idly by while this harebrained menace to the safety of the world made his way to the Oval Office, making excuse after excuse for him in an effort not to secure the blessings of liberty but to protect  their own political viability. Flag lapel pins do not denote patriotism. Standing up against fascist movements and policies counter to the principals outlined in the founding documents, even in the face of danger, so that those principals may be carried over to a next generation so that it might not be burdened down by ignorance and laziness, THAT is patriotism. My father and Heather Hyer, 75 years apart charged the beaches of intolerance.

If the national mission is truly the pursuit of happiness as well as liberty and justice for all, then in the face of all the unbridled movements of fascism, like Don Quixote de La Mancha and Heather Hyer and all the men and women who faced down this evil in a myriad of ways all over the world throughout history we must be willing to “march into hell for a heavenly cause”.

Irish Statesman Edmund Burke once wrote “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Resist!

6 thoughts on “Lessons Learned and Too Soon Forgotten

  1. Thank you for your blog post “Lessons Learned and Too Soon Forgotten”
    Now I understand the sign at the women’s march on Washington, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good women to do nothing.”

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  2. Thank you, Tom, beautifully done! Your father would be proud! Mine, too! He was a journalist and never served in the Army, as he lost his trigger finger in the printing press during a night shift at the job. But he marveled, too, at how our prejudices came to us through our culture. He covered the civil rights movement in Cleveland, attending a service at a Baptist church when, I believe, Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke there, and shared his thoughts on how powerful an image the hands of all the colors there were holding each other’s hands. I wish I could remember his words, but the image lives on. Carry on!

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    1. Thank you Margaret. I found your piece on working the primary illuminative. I have never really understood the process vis a vi the poll workers. But I do know it is important. now more than ever. Your dad must have had some fascinating stories. Be well.

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